Album Review: Son Volt “Honky Tonk” @SonVoltMusic (Rounder Records)

SonVolt Indie bluegrass band Son Volt emerged from the ruins of Uncle Tupelo, so I was thrilled when their new album Honky Tonk came across my desk. Upon putting it in my car stereo, I was immediately greeted by the cheerfully upbeat opener “Hearts and Minds” whose lyrics speak of “looking for love outside of danger” over a sunny, Cajun-like waltz. The rest of the album is a far more somber affair, with a typical country sound that is constantly being subverted by odd turns of poetic phrase in the lyrics. “Brick Walls” speaks of a relationship where “there’s more brick walls than bridges on the way to your heart”, and even “Wild Side”, a tribute to a gracious rebel reminds us that “we’ll all be tested anyway.” “Bakersfield” seems to be more about a location in the soul than a location on the map, and “Angel of the Blues” offers an ever-so-slightly more modern sound, which isn’t the blues per se but has quite the melancholy mood. “Seawall” seemingly carries forward the album’s underlying theme of divisions and barriers that was first introduced in “Brick Walls” and is also referred to in “Barricades.” Honky Tonk is an album firmly planted at the intersection of bluegrass, folk and Americana, a beautiful juxtaposition of traditional music with exquisite poetry.

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